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On Hate Speech, Ravelry Knits A Sharp, Bright Line

Tina Casey headshotWords by Tina Casey
New Activism
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Social media sites like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter have been wrestling with online hate speech and the rise of white supremacy activism, both online and offline. Now Ravelry, the social networking site for those interested in fiber arts such as knitting, crochet and weaving, has taken on both issues. In the process, it has provided other social media companies with another clear demonstration that sometimes, brands must take stands.

Taking a social media stand

Ravelry is little known outside of the worlds of knitting, crocheting, weaving, spinning, designing and dyeing. However, the site — founded in 2007 by Casey and Jessica Forbes — does command a significant following, with a reported 8 million users.

That explains why news organizations across the U.S., from Gizmodo to USA Today took note almost immediately when Ravelry posted its new policy on hate speech on Sunday morning, June 23.

The key element that Ravelry draws out is a common sense one: there is a sharp distinction between normal political discourse and hate speech.

Ravelry sums it up, stating that “hate groups and intolerance are different from other types of political positions.”

The new policy is blunt, beginning with the first sentence:

“We are banning support of Donald Trump and his administration on Ravelry.”

The announcement continues:

“We cannot provide a space that is inclusive of all and also allow support for open white supremacy. Support of the Trump administration is undeniably support for white supremacy.”

That includes both comments on the site’s forum, as well as visual messaging expressed in projects and designs.

Ravelry emphasizes that the new policy is not an endorsement for Democrats. It does not ban Republicans or conservative politics from the site, and it does not ban Trump supporters from participating. It simply bans them from expressing support on Ravelry.

The focus is clearing the site of hate speech, not banning users who support Trump. For that reason, the new policy also strictly warns that the ban also covers any user who baits or entices anyone else to break the rules.

Taking a stand: inclusion does not include white supremacy

Ravelry credits the gamer website RPGnet with developing a boilerplate for its new policy.

Founded in 1996 by Emma Antunes and now owned by the online game company Skotos Tech, RPGnet describes itself as ”the oldest and largest independent roleplaying site on the Internet.”

Last October, RPGnet announced its new policy banning users from supporting President Trump and white supremacy.

Based on a months-long discussion within its moderation team, RPGnet explained that it cannot be both welcoming to “persons of every ethnicity” while also enabling “open support for white supremacy.”

As with the Ravelry announcement, RPGnet made it clear that the new policy is not up for debate:

"We have fully considered the downsides and ultimately decided we have to stay true to our values. We will not pretend that evil isn’t evil, or that it becomes a legitimate difference of political opinion if you put a suit and tie on it.”

Ravelry, brand reputation and social media

When RPGnet announced the new policy, it included a list of 12 citations linking the President to white nationalism and hate speech. 

That list concluded with a link to a July 2018 NBC report on the condition of migrant children at detention centers.

In the year since NBC published its report, other news organizations have been taking note of the treatment of migrant children by the Trump administration.

A tipping point appears to have been reached within the past week, when both new stories and images of seriously ill and abused children surfaced.

Brands seeking a reputation for diversity and inclusion have already taken a stand against hate speech, often by criticizing social media and withdrawing advertising dollars form social media sites. They are also pulling advertising from Fox News over hate speech.

The difference is that Ravelry and RPGnet have taken the additional step of calling out the president, by name, over hate speech and white supremacy.

RPGnet summed it up as a simple matter of brand protection:

“We have a community here that we’ve built carefully over time, and support for elected hate groups aren’t welcome here. We can't save the world, but we can protect and care for the small patch that is this board.”

The ball is now in the court of Facebook, YouTube and other major social media sites.

In particular, it will be interesting to see if Facebook responds to the media attention touched off by Ravelry. After all, its board of directors includes at least one active supporter of President Trump - and that ally of the White House is known for his views on immigration and white supremacy.

Image credit: Mabel Amber/Pixabay

Tina Casey headshotTina Casey

Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.

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